tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 22, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PST
>> and by contributions to your pbs station fromk< viewers like you. thank you. >> just how destructive unbridled ambition is just one of the many things beyond the lights is just one of the things that star gugu mbatha-raw, and the film is directed by gina prince-bythewood. before we start our conversation let's look at a scene from beyond the ó>lights. this is minny driver playingcy
gugu's ambitious mother. >> i am getting full body as well. that's it right there. can you arch your back a little bit? exactly. over here. beautiful. we want to see you. exactly. a little bit of that. let's lose the jacket. want to lose the jacket? that's right. yeah. >> i don't get it. >> thank you. >> so the first weekend is behind you. >> uh-huh. >> what did you make of it? >> it was interesting. i mean, you know, the reaction to the film, the people that have seen it, as ané film maker that's what you want, people being changed by it and moved by it. the reviews have been great and we just hope that it keeps going. >> before i get too deep into this movie, can i just say you
were remarkable in the bell project? i have been telling everybody everywhere i go that it's one of the best films i have seen in a long time. you were great, the cast was great. then when i saw gina and she told me you were going to do this and i saw you in this, you're an actress so you're supposed to be able to do this, but those are two different, completely different characters. >> yeah, i mean that was a great gift for me, really, to go from period drama to something so contemporary. as you said that's really what it's all about in terms of the acting and being able to have the opportunityks to transform. >> yeah. you know, for those who haven't seen this, describe the story line. a british single mum who grew up
in poverty and her mother sees her talent and sees it as a way to pull them out of poverty and really follows the blueprint and pushes her into a hyper sexualized place to get ahead and it's really at the expense of her soul and it's killing her really. she ends up on a balcony. she is saved physically by a cop outside the door played by nate parker. it's really through their relationship and their ability to see the truth behind botho9 personas that they're able to save each other and break free from their parents. >> have you seen signs that the conversation you wanted this film to generate or at least thought the film might generate have you seen signs that that conversation is happening? >> yeah. there are two big reactions that have gotten. one the number of artists have now seen the movie to hear from
them that it was like watching their own lives is phenomenal but honestly it's now three different people that have reached out to me that said before they saw the film that they were contemplating suicide and the film gave them hope and that is amazing and really one of the big pushes for this and the theme is choose life. for that to be out in the world and working is really important to me. >> uh-huh. i'm always fascinated, ezgugu, what actors go through in terms of character development. how does one go about researching to play an example like this. there are number of examples. >> it was a pretty intense and lengthy process, really. working with gina, i worked with her two years before we got to shoot the film. at that point the character was american and we talked about the script and gina was inspired to make make her british.
i thought that was interesting in terms of raising the stakes for the mother daughter dynamic that they really had to put all of their eggs into one basket. not only putting her in the industry but traveling half way across the world to do it. gina directed me tmzards a couple of biographies, one of marilyn monroe, to explore the idea of identity as a sex symbol and what that can do to you on a psychological level. obviously we know her history and how that all ended tragically. and also looking at judy garland as a child star and also her mum was very instrumental in her career early on. that was her starting point. it was not part of the hip hop world. there was a> perspective of history where you could look at these iconic artists but not feel like you were having to, you know, bring in everything that was contemporary.
but then of course we looked at numerous artists past and pand then contemporary artists obviously from rihanna to beyonce, we saw them both live in concert. went to the grammys backstage. all the physical and vocal preparation, working with the dream studio and great vocal coach. and also our choreographer who is so dynamic. she works with all of these contemporary artists every day. so just being around that energy and working with her for hours and hours in a studio via osmosis you take on that lingo. we even went to a club on a field trip. >> i like that. a field trip to a club. >> yes. yes. >> that's my excuse in the
future. it's a field trip. >> but it was great because there is a scene in the movie where she is kind of numbing herself in a club scene. we just went to an equivalent club in la and breathed that in. one reason. i wanted to see who did the singing. i was impressed. i wanted to know who did this and was very impressed. >> thank you. i had a lot of help. gina surrounded me with people who really are in this industry from ngk as well. they lived this life and you know, he sings the demo and puts the nuances into that and really that's his imprint in those songs. >> there are two things i want
you intimated this in the conversation thus far. one is what you have to go through as a black woman, as a film maker to get a project like this made. i'll come to that second. the first thing that gugu referenced earlier is some of the things changed from beginning to end. when a project takes this long to get made -- how many years? >> from full on writing, four years. >> things change over four years. give me some sense of some things that changed from the time you started writing until the time you casted it. i'm just curious what the changes were. >> i think the two biggest changes were one, i mean, there's a lot of personal stuff within this script and, but one thing i wasn't touching on said in terms of the mother daughter dynamic, why don't# you be mor truthful in your story about being adopted and tracking down your birth mother and what my
life would have been like if my mother had raised me. i hesitated for a moment. it's such a better way to go, more interesting, more truthful opened the film up organically and obviously brought us the great minnie driver as well. >> she was amazing. >> thats a pektd is n s aspect on. we didn't have to comment on the racial part it was just there. i thought it made it more interesting and global as well. and then as gugu touched on, this character was written as american originally and then when=v she came in and she auditioned with an american accent but it wasn't until i started talking with gugu and it started feeling better and more intere interesting that this was a character that came from overseas that she was brought here to follow the blueprint.
it also opened up the script as well globally and changed some story points in terms of the love story in what they had to do to come find her and made it more interesting. >> so over the years i have had countless conversations, myriad conversations with you and others about the difficulty of getting projects in this town made, particularly when those projects happen to feature love stories in black. i don't know if there is anything more difficult to get made in this town than love stories in black and yet you have done it a couple times;> n. you did love and basketball, did it make it easier to get beyond the lights made? >> no. >> okay. all righty then. >> but what love and basketball did for me, the struggle i had to get that made gives me the confidence to get this made. i knew i just needed one yes. >> how tough was the fight? >> for this one?
>> yeah. >> it was tough. everybody turned it down. a couple times. but, again, if you're passionate about a story and you believe in it enough it really is about overcoming no. it's actually interesting. i read something that gugu said. we continue to work on this through all these you know, some asked flat out would i cast the male lead white but that's just not what i
wanted to do. i wanted to tell the story about people of color but it's a universal story. that's my thing, being able to tell universal stories with people of color. the same way i can embrace a notebook and fall in love with the characters, i want the world to fall in love with my film. >> how do you process, i wonder whether or not it puts pressure on an actor when you know, when nate knows that you have a director who is fighting for you to be in this role. you know you're talented and gifted yet this person has to fight for you to have this role. does that put any additional pressure on you to deliver? how do you approach this project when you know there's a whole lot of fight that went into making it possible for you. >> to me it's not so much pressure but galvanizing.
as gina was saying that process, we just carried on. we still did the research. she was always sending me music videos and making me mix tapes, you know, we were still going to see the concerts and still talking about the character. we show an eight minute presentation, short of a short film condensed version of the film. it sort of -- it sort of didn't stop. we were fighting together in a way. obviously gina had all the weight of that when it comes to the studios, but we were still working on it. >> why are love stories in black so important for you to tell? there are any number of genres that you could be working in. i'm not suggesting that you won't do other stuff but why is this particular lane so important for you to run in? >> uh-huh. i will say it starts with love stories. i love love stories and they are rare, the great ones that just
wreck you. i love to go to movies and get wrecked but come out inspired. so honestly i write what i want to see. and so it starts there. but then, you know, as i said, with putting people that look like me up there, i think it's important for one the community to see that there is a perception out there, honestly, especially in this country that black people don't love each other and don't fight for each other and i wanted to abolish that perception because it's not true. and just discount the negativity. we know how strong images can be. it's great for young men and young women who see the film to be able to look up at characters inspired to be like those characters. it's rare unfortunately. that's one of the reasons i fight so hard.
i'm not sure who have done this like carol. >> when it comes out it's different than anything else that black people are offering. we always complain that we don't get seen in the complexity in who we are. when it comes out it does well but doesn't do great at the box office how do you process that? when the stories are told they do well but not swimmingly well. >> my thing, i never -- i didn't want people to go to a film of mine because i felt guilty like i had to support it. i want them to go because it's a good movie. it starts there. of course as a film maker, i want everybody to go see it. but i focus on the people that have seen it.
and the key honestly for me is longevity. the fact that love and basketball was 14 years ago but is still talked about. that's what you want as a film maker. if the film has legs and people are still talking about it years later, that is what you want that your work means something and that it sustains itself. >> to be clear, i saw the numbers. the studio's going to make its money back. they pretty much did that the first week. the studio, they going to be all right. i'm curious as a film maker how you process pouring your heart and soul into something and trying to get people to see things in a different light. one other issue is that there are so many themes in this movie but one of the themes about the relationship between parent and child that was true of you in your mother in the film, nate and his father, danny glover who
plays a wonderful character in the film. talk to me about that. >> that is the thing that drew me into the story the most and the thing that i was most interested in exploring. which she encapsulates so well this manipulative but in a sophisticated way. i just thought was so fascinating. and i myself am an only child grew up with my mom. i could identify with the intensity of that bond but obviously my mum and i, our relationship is so much more healthy than this toxic one we show. >> i hope so, yes. >> but again, exploring what if, what if that were flipped, what if my mum had had me under different circumstances? i was dieing to get into show business from about the age of
11 and my mum was like you need to go to school and have a normalish childhood but what if that had not happened and the idea of breaking free and the idea of freedom as well as identity and again as you said, they both have these parallel trajectories with their parents both wanting so much for them and it's only when they can kind of break free of that and define themselves as opposed to other people endowing them with their own ambitions. i think it's very real. >> i thought it was interesting also to explore that when a parent is trying to find their self-worth in a child and how damaging that can be and how it starts to shift the moral compass and it was important that and minnie got it as well not to portray her as a monster. she just went off track and could not figure out how to get
back on it but it was so important to get the success of her child so people would see her in a better light. >> i wonder if there is a particular point of pride in being able to expose the rest of us to talents that we don't yet appreciate it as levels that we need to. certainly gugu has been out there. people are appreciating her for a lot of projects. nate's done -- i hope we see more of gugu. it's not just fighting for a black love story it's fighting for characters whose names are not as known as other people that you were being asked or told that you needed to cast to get studio xyz to sign off on. we have issues on things from time to time. i'm starting to get the sense that you are doing the same
thing do years from now. i think more greatly because you expose us to them. >> i don't have an objection to working with established stars, it's just for me at the end of the day it's most important to have the right person for the role and i will keep searching until the right person comes along and i will just know it in my gut. there is an excitement. i want to be inspired to go to set every day and work with this person and create a character with this person. that's where excitement comes from. >> i'm about to ask you. plug your ears for a second, gugu. it's embarrassing to brag about you when you're sitting here but when you met gugu how did you know she was right for this role? >> it was literally an immediate thing. she started reading lines. we were in a crappy little room in a crappy little place and honestly it was like dirty walls
and dirty carpet. >> hold up. hold up. why were you there? >> i had no money. i was doing this by myself. the casting director worked for free and i -- >> my garage is nicer than where you were. come to my house next time. >> there's a little piece thinking what is she thinking but it's like magic happened in that crappy little room and it's like i saw the movie. it's like i couldn't stop looking at the innate vulnerability, which is i think her gift. her acting chops are insane. it was fun to watch her and she has a magnatism and i snu she was the one and then she had to sing, that was the second part and it went great. so it was inspiring it's the same way i felt when i saw nate in great debaters. i was like who is that guy? i had never seen him before.
somebody that me as an artist wanted to work with. it's finding people that inspire me. it was the same as another actress. i'm just inspired by good actors. >> i'm so glad you chose the song and gugu did a wonderful job with it. but why and how did simone become the song? >> i write the music and nina simone was always on my play list to write to. she's inspiring and truthful and real and raw. i always knew that this character would sing a nina sim simone song. i hit upon blackbird and i knew immediately that was the song. it's another thing where it changed the trajectory of the script as well. originally she sang her own song in mexico, but just knowing the
power of the song when she was a little girl, what it said about her as a girl and a young woman, it just made more sense that she comes back to that moment. >> it works. it works top to bottom. it was a bufl choieautiful choi. gugu, what's next on the dockett? >> i have a couple of things. i shot a movie in the summer which was directed by courtney hunt, a legal courtroom drama. i play a defense attorney. and then i'm just in the middle of working on a project which is currently called concussion which is shooting in pittsburgh with will smith and it's about brain injuries in the nfl. it's a true story of dr. bennett who was the pathologist that first discovered the link between the two and his process of bringing that to life. >> you're making great choices and that makes for a great
career. congratulations in advance on all of that. gina and gugu. the film is beyond the lights. it's a wonderful film i enjoyed immensely. i'm sure you will too if you get out and check it out. written by gee that prince-bythewood and gugu. that's our show for tonight. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. >> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with blues guitarist kenny wayne shepherd about going home. we'll see you then.
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